Introduction to Housing and Shelter

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People having a safe, acceptable, affordable place to live is fundamental to the well-being of individuals, families and our community. Being part of a secure home contributes to people’s wellness and allows them to pursue what’s important to their future, whether they are growing, learning, belonging to a family, connecting to employment, participating in the community, or simply ‘being’.

Things We Are Doing Well

  • In November, 2013, Niagara Regional Council approved a10-year Housing and Homelessness Action Plan (HHAP), built in partnership with the community. It focuses on: eliminating homelessness and helping those at risk of homelessness; maintaining existing housing stock; increasing the supply of affordable housing; and improving coordination and decision-making among funders, agencies and housing providers. Improved access to adequate, suitable and affordable housing for families and individuals is emphasized.
  • In 2012, the Youth Reconnect (YR) Program led by The Raft was cited nationally as an innovative approach to solving youth homeless in rural areas. YR’s Niagara-wide response helps youth remain connected to social supports and stay in school, therefore reducing their vulnerability and preventing a first episode of homelessness that could lead to a life of social exclusion.
  • People working with low-income clients experiencing housing/homelessness issues are sharing information to strengthen the impact of their work. The Niagara Poverty Reduction Network Housing Working Table and a collaborative of Community Health Centre Outreach Workers and Niagara Region Community Services homelessness personnel are examples.
  • The Wellness Supportive Living Program provides supports services to seniors in four Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) communities, helping them to age at home longer and more successfully. Funded by the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN, the Wellness program is a partnership between NRH, March of Dimes, Niagara Region Seniors Community Programs and Community Support Services Niagara.
  • Options exist for some low income households to achieve home ownership, which eases demand for affordable rental units. Examples include Habitat for Humanity Niagara volunteers building 42 affordable homes in the past 21 years, and the Niagara Regional Housing Welcome Home Niagara 5% forgivable loan program which has assisted 249 low to mid-income households to purchase their own homes.

Emerging Activities

  • Youth homelessness in Niagara is on the decline; a contributing factor is the provincial government’s realization that supporting youth in re-linking with their family helps to reduce homelessness now and for the future.
  • One outcome of the process of building the Niagara Region HHAP is the community’s renewed focus on planning for action steps to address the lack of new affordable housing in Niagara, and updates required to existing affordable housing.
  • The Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) Rent Supplement Program has expanded to include the Niagara version of “Housing First”, to move people more quickly from homelessness to their own home. A collaboration of NRH, Niagara Region Community Services, community agencies and private landlords, 122 Housing First units have been funded through to March 2017.
  • NRH opened its first new owned community in more than 30 years on Fitch Street in Welland. With 67 units, this senior community has three fully accessible units, is universally designed (ie. accessible throughout) and has designated space for support services. The environmentally-responsible ‘Fitch East’ is non-smoking, has geothermal heating and cooling and has a green “living wall”. NRH is seeking funding for further new development that meets the housing needs of Niagara.
  • Niagara is increasingly able to describe and understand the intertwined factors influencing the root causes of poverty. Collaborative work of community partners, such as the building of the HHAP, the Niagara Mental Health and Addictions Charter and the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, is illuminating clear action steps to address poverty, with ‘suitable housing for all’ being pivotal.

Suggested Action Steps

  • Support the implementation of the Niagara Region 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Action Plan (HHAP) through inter-agency collaboration and development of a single, common monitoring report to measure a key cross section of housing-related indicators over time.
  • Pay attention to key contributing factors affecting homelessness in Niagara, such as:
    • The mounting effect of no new build of affordable housing being done in Niagara since the 1990’s, and provincial funding levels for housing and homelessness remaining the same for several years is (i) forcing people living in poverty to reside in substandard housing and (ii) not providing suitable entry points into housing for people who are living outside.
    • The importance of providing rent supplements and affordable transitional housing to help stabilize individuals and communities in which they live.
    • The lack of new housing being built and the conditions of already substandard housing are worsening where homeless or marginalized individuals live.
    • The landlords’ role in addressing issues such as fixing substandard housing
    • Supporting prevention’s role in avoiding housing loss
    • Supported and supportive housing as a means for people requiring assistance to live independently
  • Explore potential for implementing the federal concept of ‘Housing First’ in the Niagara context by surveying culture orientation/philosophy of local organizations, analyzing availability of suitable housing, and reviewing models such as the Mental Health Commission of Canada At Home/Chez Soi research completed in 5 cities.
  • Utilize our common understanding of what affordable housing means as a benchmark to monitor progress of the number of affordable housing new starts in Niagara.
  • Work with local municipalities to track average cost of utilities in Niagara, an underlying measure of rent costs, and an indicator of cost of living.

Indicators

Housing Availability

  • Housing Demand Trends
  • New Housing Starts
  • Vacancy Rates

Housing Affordability

  • Spending 30% of Income on Housing and Shelter
  • Average Market Rent
  • Average Monthly Rent Trends
  • Purchase Price of a Home in Niagara
  • Market Absorption Rate
  • New Housing Price Index

Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention

  • Wait Times and Availability of Affordable and Subsidized Housing in Niagara
  • Core Housing Needs
  • Homelessness and Use of Shelters
  • Housing Initiatives (including Transitional and New)
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